On the different origins of Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza People

Regarding the Hawramani people – are they not Kurds? How come you write: “Like the Kurds around them, the Hawrami people are largely Sunni Muslims.” ? Do you consider yourself as Hawramani and not as a Hawramani-Kurd?

The cultural and linguistic evidence suggests that Hawramis are descended from the Persians of Gilan. They are most closely related to the Zaza people of Turkey, who are also descended from the people of that area (the lower edge of the Caspian Sea). On the other hand, Kurds are a separate race who inhabited the borderlands between Persia, Turkey and Arabia.

So while Hawramis live among Kurds, they are a different race. Kurds may themselves be anciently descended from the Persians of Fars province then mixed with Turks and Arabs. Hawramis are descended from the people of the Caspian sea area, who might be a mix of Persians, Armenians and other Caucasian races (such as Circassians) who inhabited the Tabarstan area.

Below is a representation of the migration of the original “Kurds” out of Fars province in Iran, perhaps between 600 and 1000 CE. They settled in that oval area and mixed with Arabs and other original inhabitants.

Below is a representation of the origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people. The came out of the Western edge of the Caspian Sea and settled in Hawraman and Dersim as a separate race from the Kurds. I know that most Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza are unaware of these facts so that they think the label “Kurd” applies to them. The origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people were only worked out by scholars in the past 50 years. Vladimir Minorsky spoke of his theory of Hawramis coming out of Gilan, and another scholar whose name I cannot remember worked out the relationship between the Zaza language and the Daylam area of Iran. The extreme similarity between the Zaza and the Hawrami languages, their similarity to the Caspian languages (Gilaki, Mazandarani), and their extreme difference from Kurdish, all made Western scholars realize that they are in reality non-Kurdish languages coming out of the Western Caspian.

I am aware that today in this era of Kurdish nationalism it is rather politically incorrect to suggest that the Hawramis are not Kurds. But that is what the facts suggest.

While many younger Hawramis have been convinced by Kurdish nationalist propaganda that they are really Kurds, the older generation of Hawramis are very clear about not being Kurds. They use “Kurd” literally to mean “non-Hawrami”. My grandmother would be highly insulted if someone called her a Kurd. I have seen a similar attitude among other old Hawrami people. They see the people around them as either Hawramis, Kurds, Arabs or Persians. Kurds are a separate category in their minds.

Another clue for the different origins of Hawramis and Kurds is that while Arab-like features are very common among Kurds (darker skin, thick black hair, short stature), they are rare among Hawramis. Tall stature, very pale skin, soft colored hair and colored eyes are very common among Hawramis while they are less common among Kurds.

For the Zaza people, the word they use for themselves is a clue: Dimli is an alternative pronunciation of Dilmi, which is a localized pronunciation of Daylami, which means “from Daylam” (the area by the Caspian Sea in Iran).

Questioning the Concept of “Kurd”

In his important paper “Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds” (you can view it here for free), the respected Armenian scholar Garnik Asatrian suggests that the word “Kurd” was not used to refer to a race, but to any of the various differing transhumant (migratory) tribes inhabiting the lands between Persia, Arabia and Anatolia. They were likely originally came out of Fars in Iran, moved northwards and mixed with various other races. They originally spoke a version of Persian that slowly changed over the centuries into what we now call Kurdish.

The nationalistic Kurdish idea that the Kurds were an original race (like Persians or Arabs) of the area is inaccurate historically for the simple reason that Kurds speak an Iranian language, rather than an independent language like Armenians do. Kurdish is similar to Pashto (the language of Afghanistan’s Pashtun people). Both of them originated from Iran and slowly developed in new directions. So while among Kurdish nationalists there is a desire to make Kurds into their own independent race, the reality is that they are just another Iranian group similar to the Luri, Fayli, Bakhtyari, Pashtun and Baluchi people. All of them were probably originally one Persian race that slowly developed in different directions and mixed with surrounding peoples (similar to the way Norwegians, the Swedish, the Danes, the Dutch and the English were all originally Germans).

Personally I have no nationalistic feelings, so to me the historical reality is far more interesting than nationalist ideas. I consider the Kurds my brothers and sisters, and my own family has married into Kurdish families, but that doesn’t make me want to deny the different origins of the Hawramis.

The truth is that all humans are migrants from somewhere. The Persians, Kurds, Hawramis and the various other Iranian peoples themselves are Indo-Europeans whose ancestors, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, came out of the Central Asian and Siberian Steppes. These ancient ancestors in turn probably came out of earlier tribal groups, who themselves were descended from Adam .